Mystery Worshipper: Liffey
Church: Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Croatian Catholic Mission, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 November 2015, 9:00am
Originally called St Henry's and dating from 1905, the building is a neo-Gothic brick structure with limestone and bronze ornamentation. The architect was Henry J. Schlacks, founder of the architecture department at the University of Notre Dame and regarded by many as Chicago's greatest ecclesiastical architect. It has an impressive bell tower with magnificent gargoyles watching over the parish grounds. Most interestingly, it also is the only surviving Chicago parish that still has a graveyard. Inside, most of the stained glass dates from the original 1905 installation and is the work of Franz Xavier Zettler, who headed the Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Manufactory established in 1827 by King Ludwig, which was known for its unique "Munich style." I really liked the baptismal font topped by an angel, and a statue of Mary Queen of Heaven.
The Mission is named in honor of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac of Croatia. As Archbishop of Zagreb during the early days of the Nazi scourge, Stepinac was an outspoken champion of the persecuted, which earned him a prison sentence of sixteen years at hard labor in a mock trial. Released in 1951 by the Tito regime, he was confined to his village and forbidden to resume his priestly duties. That did not stop Pope Pius XII from elevating him to the rank of cardinal in 1953, calling him "the most important priest of the Catholic Church." He died in 1960 and was beatified in 1998 by Pope John Paul II. Today the Mission continues to serve Chicago's Croatian community with a variety of spiritual and social programs, although their website is silent about these from December 2014 onward. Weekday masses are celebrated in Croatian, and Sunday masses in English and Croatian.
The church is adjacent to Misericordia, a community of care for over 600 persons with developmental disabilities. We had a delightful brunch at the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant and shopped in the wonderful gift shop. We heard that Father Paul frequents the restaurant often.
The Revd Paul Maslach, OFM, pastor, celebrated. The Revd Mr John Mikan, deacon, was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Mass in English
How full was the building?
There were fewer than 100 people in the church since it was an English language mass. However, the church rapidly filled up after our mass for the Croatian language mass.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several parishioners greeted us with nods and hellos. We obviously were visitors, and one woman asked us kindly if we were looking for anything in particular.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were very plain, not original to the church, but were comfortable. The kneelers were red to match the carpet in the aisle.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were talking quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
None no music at this service.
Did anything distract you?
As usual, because of my hearing, I was very distracted by the acoustics. However, that only makes me listen all the harder!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was reverential, particularly in light of the several mentions of the recent horror in Paris. The beginning of mass was a jingle of the bells and voilà, Father Paul and Deacon John walked out onto the altar from the sacristy. No procession, no song. Oh no, I thought, a perfunctory obligatory English mass in a non-English speaking parish. But Father Paul shortly disabused me of my poor judgment when he spoke with such sincerity of the need to pray for the people of France.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Deacon John proved to be a nice speaker with a very positive sermon and uplifting message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Deacon John reminded us that we are all saints because saints are sinners who always keep trying (one of my favorite ever take-aways from a sermon). He explained that spirituality is a process of living like Jesus while benefiting others.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The several times Father Paul and Deacon John asked us to pray for those in the Paris attacks. Their prayer requests were very heartfelt and sincere. At the end of mass, Father Paul gave the announcements and he was a delight to listen
to. You just felt the sincere love he had for people and his parish.
Also heaven-like, the church and church campus were immaculate. We heard later from a server where we ate that the parishioners are extremely dedicated to Father Paul and the church and are vigorous about keeping everything clean and tidy.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The acoustics were poor and that makes it quite difficult for me to concentrate.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We spoke to Father Paul after mass to tell him how much we liked the service and the church. He was so sweet and charming. After that, we visited the graveyard for quite some time.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None. We retired to the nearby Greenhouse Inn for brunch (see above).
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The emphasis on prayer for those in need and the great message that I too am a saint made me leave with joy.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Father Paul, the beauty of the church, and the really interesting graveyard.